Oh, the red Kryptonite episode.
It begins with Cat on a talk show, speaking very highly of Supergirl. She describes Supergirl as the kindest person she’s ever known and an inspiration. While Cat’s voice praises Supergirl, we get a pretty cute scene where a little girl in a Supergirl shirt and cape is being teased, but Supergirl shows up to defend her. She uses her x-ray vision to look into the girl’s backpack and learn that her name is Laura, and when her bullies are surprised that she knows Laura, Supergirl replies “I’m friends with all the nice girls.”
At Catco, Kara is trying to find Winn, and when she uses her Xray vision she catches him having sex with Siobhan in a closet. Or maybe they were just making out. But judging by Kara’s reaction, I think they were most likely having sex. At work. Kara is actually cool with it, though she wishes she hadn’t actually seen it. You know, having Kara’s female rival sleep with her male friend would probably have been an opportunity for girl-on-girl hate in most shows, and I’m glad that didn’t happen here. Even if Kara dislikes Siobhan, she acknowledges that it’s none of her business if Winn does and she never brings it up with Siobhan. I can’t remember if this changes in later episodes, my memory of the last few episodes of this season are fuzzy, but for now I’m glad that it’s going this way.
Later, Supergirl is assisting some firefighters, and she unknowingly is effected by a glowing red crystal in the vicinity. After this encounter, there’s a sudden change in Kara’s demeanor. She’s much bolder and more aggressive, and even her clothing changes. She starts wearing outfits that are more form-fitting and sexy. Hm. Okay, I’m just going to get this out of the way right now.
It’s obvious from the beginning that the red crystal is turning Kara into a “dark” version of herself. Dark versions of good characters isn’t a new idea at all, but I don’t mind so much as it can be interesting when it’s done well. What annoys me is how dark versions of female characters almost always end up being more sexually aggressive than the good version of them. Female superheroes are almost always sexualized anyway, but female villains are especially so, and they’re often less passive about it (note that much of Indigo’s behavior and mannerisms in the last episode were flirtatious and sexual). The implication (whether intentional or not) is that women who are confident or aggressive in their sexuality are inherently bad. The first hint we get that something is off about Kara is that she’s wearing an outfit that’s sexier than what she’d normally wear and she’s walking and talking with more confidence than usual. That’s a bit… troubling.
That being said, Kara looks really hot in that outfit and in every other outfit that she wears while under the influence of red Kryptonite and if she punched me in the face I would thank her.
Anyway, the red crystal does effect her in other ways. It causes Supergirl to let a dangerous criminal go because she feels that fighting him is beneath her, and it causes her to very harshly criticize J’onn for staying in hiding when he could be saving people as Martian Manhunter.
Siobhan has video of footage of Supergirl letting the criminal go and she shows it to Cat, but Cat has no interest in it, at least not until they have more information. Cat isn’t so eager to criticize Supergirl. Siobhan then tries to send the video to Perry White, Cat’s biggest competitor, but Kara finds her out and tells Cat. Siobhan is humiliated and fired, with no job from Perry White waiting for her.
Kara convinces James and Winn to go to a club with her that night, though it’s pretty clear that James is her focus and Winn ends up being a third wheel. She invites James to dance with her and things get uncomfortable fast. Kara makes advances on James and apparently her flirtation technique is to insult his ex-girlfriend. Seriously, she says some really nasty things about Lucy (who, by the way, has quit working at Catco) and it’s extremely uncomfortable. James is rightfully offended, Kara is way out of line. They’re interrupted when James gets a call from Cat, asking him to contact Supergirl for her.
So, Supergirl heads over to Catco to talk to Cat Grant. Cat of course wants to know what the hell has been going on with Supergirl, and um
Cat: Supergirl… I fear that you’re having some sort of mental breakdown. Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us, and I’m happy to take you to Dr. Shuman for emergency Lexapro, that is, if your alien brain will respond to the SSRls. But in the meantime, I would lay low. This haughty attitude is highly unsuitable.
Kara: Well, I learned it from the best. Cat Grant. You’re the most arrogant, self-serving, mean-spirited person I know.
Cat: Now, you listen to me. I made you. And you are not going to let me down.
Kara: Or what?
Cat: Or what?
Kara: Wait, I forgot. You’re the most powerful person in National City. At least that’s what they say on TV. You want to see what powerful really looks like? Watch.
And then she throws Cat Grant off the side of the balcony.
Don’t worry, she catches her before she hits the ground, but the point is pretty clear. Supergirl can kill Cat whenever she wants, she can kill anyone whenever she wants, and she should be feared.
At the DEO, it’s discovered that Kara’s strange behavior is the result of exposure to synthetic red Kryptonite. It’s something Maxwell Lord made, to use against Non and his army, but it didn’t come out quite right and instead of harming Kryptonians physically it alters their mental state. Kara was exposed accidentally, and Maxwell Lord wants to help develop an antidote for her.
Alex goes to Kara’s apartment to check up on her. Alex finds her wearing a Kryptonian army uniform rather than her Supergirl costume. Alex tries to explain to Kara about the red Kryptonite, how it’s affecting her mentally and she’s not seeing clearly.
Kara: Oh, I see clearly! I see how you’ve always been jealous of me! You didn’t want me to come out as Supergirl because you didn’t want me to own my powers. I can fly. I can catch bullets with my bare hands. And that makes you feel worthless.
Alex: No. No, I’m proud of you.
Kara: And when you couldn’t stop me being Supergirl, you got me to work for you. To retain some control. Those days are so over. I am finally free of you, and I’m ready to soar. Look at that city. They worship me. And those who don’t, will.
Alex: Kara, just listen to yourself.
Kara: Go, cut the big sister act, Alex. We have never been sisters. We don’t share blood. And you know what the sad truth is? Without me, you have no life. And that kills you. Deep down, you hate me. And that’s why you killed my aunt. Aww, did I make you cry? You know what they say, the truth hurts.
God, this scene is painful to watch. I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way. It’s very well-written and effective, which is what makes it so painful. Kara is so vicious in this scene, and what makes it worse is that this isn’t coming from nowhere. The red Kryptonite brought it to the surface, but the resentment has always been there is some form. Of course Alex loves Kara and of course she’s proud of her, but it’s also true that she’s always felt overshadowed by Kara. And Kara loves Alex too, but the fact that Alex has had to act as her guardian for most of their lives means that Kara can feel stifled by Alex sometimes. There’s Astra too. Kara forgave Alex for Astra, but is it really so easy to forgive?
After being flung off a rooftop, Cat has no choice but to denounce Supergirl publicly. It breaks her heart, especially since just a few days ago she was heaping praise on Supergirl, but she has to warn everyone that Supergirl is dangerous. As the news spreads, we see people throughout National City throwing away merchandise, taking down posters. Saddest of all we see the little girl Supergirl defended at the beginning of the episode throwing away her Supergirl shirt and cape.
Maxwell Lord finishes working on the antidote, so the DEO confronts Supergirl, who is wreaking havoc throughout National City. She takes everyone out and is about to kill Alex, but J’onn reveals his true form to take her on before it can happen. With Supergirl weakened from her fight with J’onn, Alex is able to give her the antidote. J’onn is surrounded and instead of taking Alex’s advice and escaping, he surrenders himself to the DEO and allows them to arrest him.
Supergirl regains consciousness at the DEO, and it appears the antidote worked. She remembers everything she did while under the influence of the red Kryptonite, and it’s her turn to sob and apologize to Alex.
Here’s the thing. Being a good person doesn’t mean never having any bad thoughts or impulses. All of us have mean, bitter, petty thoughts at times, but most of us also know that it’s best to keep that shit to yourself.
So what would happen if suddenly every resentment, every mean impulse, every negative thought and feeling was brought to the surface, and we no longer had a filter? We would probably all say some really awful stuff, stuff that we would regret. Once it’s out there, how do you take it back?
The red Kryptonite brought out the absolute worst in Kara. It brought out what she could be, if she lacked a filter or a moral compass or whatever it is that allows her to be her best. But now everyone has seen her worst, Kara has seen herself at her worst. How is she supposed to make up for that? How does she convince everyone that that’s not who she really is, that’s not how she really thinks and feels?
Kara tries to apologize to James and assures him that she doesn’t really hate Lucy. James points out that there had to be some truth to what Kara was saying, and she admits to being jealous of Lucy. James says he needs some time to think things through.
In the final scene, Supergirl visits Cat on the balcony at Catco. Supergirl is noticeably more subdued than the last time she visited, which I guess is why Cat doesn’t immediately run away screaming. The two look out at the view of National City for a moment before Supergirl starts talking.
Kara: I love this city. The lights. All the windows. I love that behind every window there’s a story. Someone’s eating take-out with their boyfriend. Someone’s playing board games with their kids. To me, every person in the city is a light. And every time I’ve helped one of them… A little bit of their light has become a part of me. I’ve never been happier than when I’ve been Supergirl… I know what happened wasn’t exactly my fault, my… my brain was altered. But it brought something inside of me out. That was mean and horrible…
She apologizes to Cat for nearly killing her, and says that she’s afraid she’ll never be able to win back the city’s trust. Cat tells her that yeah, it’s going to be really hard to do that, but not impossible. Supergirl asks if she can just sit with Cat for a while longer, and the two continue admiring the view quietly.
An episode like this could have very easily been gimmicky, but it ended up being one of the best episodes of the show, probably the best one so far.
This show is at its best when it focuses on character and emotional stakes, which is good because when your heroine is practically invincible you need to find something other than her physical well-being for us to be concerned about (mind you, they do a pretty decent job of giving her physical threats as well). The red Kryptonite brought out the worst in Kara in a way that was mostly believable. I mean, did I think Kara would ever throw Cat off the side of a balcony just to scare her or say such horribly mean things about Lucy Lane? No, of course not. Can I believe that those actions and words came from a real place of frustration buried deep in Kara? Well… yeah.
What saves this episode from being gimmicky is the emotional and dramatic impact it has, as well as the fact that the consequences of Kara’s actions are going to last beyond this episode. Not everything returns to normal in the end. Kara’s mind isn’t altered anymore, but the damage has been done and fixing it won’t be easy. She’ll have to earn back the city’s trust as well as deal with the fallout of having treated her friends and sister so terribly. Not to mention J’onn’s imprisonment, which was kind of indirectly caused by Kara as well.